In Defense Of: The Great Gatsby (2013)


     I never really understood the animosity towards this film, or rather this version of the story. The purpose of this analysis isn’t to say that they’re all wrong, but to look at it from a different prospective. For the sake of full disclosure, I never read the acclaimed novel. I missed that class. But I did see the 1974 version starring Robert Redford, which has got to count for something. I’m looking at this as a movie purely, and not a purist standpoint.
     Let’s get this out of the way immediately so we can get to the awesome nitpicky stuff: the film looks stunning. Even with the use of CGI, which can be quite a bit, gives the movie a fairy tale quality to it. A really sad, fucked up fairy tale, but most of them are. With the energy of the visuals, the bumping sounds of the anachronistic music can suck you into Gatsby’s world, and that one would think, would be enough to see the movie. But there is more that critics and even audiences seem to look past.
     A visually stunning movie is never enough for me personally, I need to get involved with either the characters and/or the story. Would you be shocked that I got involved with both? DiCaprio’s Gatsby is equal parts hopeless romantic and greedy entrepreneur. There is a constant panic in his performance, especially when you see him with a shit eating grin on his face. That’s talent, dear reader. Trust me on this. And I have to prefer DiCaprio’s interpretation of the character over Redford’s version, since my film professor made the great observation that Gatsby is a man who came from poverty to be a part of high society, but that no amount of money could never hide. Redford’s Gatsby always seemed to belong to wealth, so it hinders the themes of the story, and it kept me detached from him as a character. 
     I have to give a whole lot of love to Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway. This is a guy who’s truly out of his depth. He’s our eyes into this world and the spectacular exuberance is all reflective in this performance. The true tragedy in this tale, is Nick’s coping with the loss of Gatsby, which in the movie is pretty clearly meant to symbolize his innocence. The writing of the novel, as seen on screen, is a eulogy for the man he once was and could never be again.
     Now we have to get into the one aspect that I thought was a mistake, so this doesn’t appear to be a love fest, and that has to do with Daisy. It’s not what most people assume, I thought Carey Mulligan did just fine, it’s more of an adaptation issue. Going by the 1974 version, Daisy says the line, “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys” a horrifyingly fucked up line that broke my heart. Now, that line is in this 2013 version, but it’s reassigned to a minor, bullshit character as a throwaway line. This is the most minor thing, but left the biggest flaw in the movie. I can understand making Daisy less of a cruel bitch, but it took away the tragic optimism of Gatsby. He didn’t give a shit, he loves her no matter what, and that proved to be his downfall. It’s Shakespearian that way.
     As much as that one minor change pissed me the fuck off, I still was able to connect emotionally to the story, beyond the spectacle and CG, thanks to the anchored performances of DiCaprio and Maguire. You can tell the two characters feed off each other, and that is what leaves you imprinted with at the end of the movie. Look past the visual effects and you’ll see an unfairly mangled movie that deserves your viewing.


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